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3D Printer - Filament Guide

3D printing is a practice that started out quite strongly and there was a lot of talk about this practice, but in recent years it has been lagging a bit aside, although 3D printing has created a world of possibilities. These types of printers allow us to create previous models of parts that we are developing, to see how they look and if they are valid for what we need or what we are developing them for. Something very important is the material that we use for 3D printers, since each type of material has different properties and here we will see what these are. We will talk about PLA and ABS filaments, but we will also see PET, HIPS, Flexible and other solutions.

PLA (Polyacid Lactic)

It is one of the most used materials in the world of 3D printing, because it is biodegradable and completely recyclable. Normally this material is used to make decorative elements, such as figures, pieces for models and others, but it is also widely used in prototypes.

To use this material, we must bear in mind that the extruder must be at a temperature of about 198ºC. If we are going to make small pieces or precision pieces, a double layer fan must be used, which prevents the piece from being deformed or having a bad finish. Normally, some kind of adhesive element is used on the base, normally hairspray, as long as the heated bed has a glass surface. Normally, for dark colored filaments, the temperature should be increased 3-5ºC, with respect to the optimum temperature of the extruder.

Easy to printThe heat does not suit you. From 60ºC, it loses strength.
No hot bed is necessaryIt has less mechanical resistance than other materials
StableMoisture causes it to rot
Higher printing speed than other materials 
Of organic origin, that is why it is considered as 'ecological material' 
It comes from renewable resources (wheat, corn and the like) 

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

This material is widely used, especially at an industrial level, due to its good characteristics in terms of resistance, stability and that it resists sanding, chemical materials and even impacts. Its great drawback is that it is a derivative of oil. It is normally used to make mechanical parts, models of automotive parts, among others. It can be used to make decorative elements and has more technical applications than PLA.

To work this material, we need an extruder that can reach 235ºC, which is the temperature at which this material melts. If we are going to make small pieces, we will need a hot bed of 60ºC, but if we are going to make large pieces, we will need it at 80ºC. Layer fans cannot be used. It should be used in heated areas or the 3D printer should be closed, as this allows for better quality parts and better finishes. It should be printed in ventilated areas or with good air circulation, because it releases gases that are harmful to health. In case of using dark filaments, we must increase the extruder temperature by 3-5ºC, approximately.

Stable at temperatures of 80-90ºCAdvanced knowledge in 3D printing is required
Good behavior at temperatures between -40ºC and + 90ºCDifficulty printing highly detailed objects
Can be sanded, drilled, cut, etc, with easeLayers shrink faster than PLA, which can cause parts to crack if the environment is too cold
Chemical resistanceGases are harmful to health
Impact resistantDerived from petroleum

PET (Polyethylene Terephilalate)

This is possibly one of the most versatile and widely used plastics in the world, especially because it is used as a container for food products. It is commonly known as polyester. It can be used to make or manipulate objects and containers that can hold food, such as spoons, forks, and other utensils. It can also be used to provide transparency to the products that we are going to manufacture.

This is possibly one of the most complex materials to use when it comes to 3D printing. The temperature range of the extruder oscillates between 215-250ºC, although the normal temperature is 235ºC and usually ranges up to 5ºC, if the color of the filament is dark. We can use it to print household objects, such as glasses, plates, spoons and others, yes, the filament must be certified for such use. It does not require a hot bed.

Offers transparencySlightly toxic
Resists wear and corrosion wellIt is not biodegradable
Chemical, acid and thermal resistanceWeak from 70ºC, approximately
Resists impacts and effortsDerived from petroleum
RaincoatComplex to use
Does not absorb moisturePrice range
Can be put in the microwave 

HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene)

This is quite rare and is characterized by being a polymer that is based on the combination of styrene and butadiene, which offers great resistance to impacts. We can usually find it as a food container, it can be used to make cutlery and tableware, mainly for camping and travel. It is also often used to develop toys, footwear and other similar products.

One of the major drawbacks of this type of filament is that the temperature range varies greatly, requiring an extruder that can operate between 180-260ºC, although the optimum temperature is around 238ºC. A hot bed is not necessary for this type of filament and if it is available, it is convenient to turn it off or put it at a minimum temperature and only in the first layers or the piece could be damaged.

High resistance, even at low temperaturesIncompatible for parts intended to be outdoors
RecyclableThe piece deforms from 80ºC
Does not require a hot bed 
Resists acids and bases 
Good resistance to machining 
Does not give off gases 
Resists water 
It is a good thermal insulator 

Flexible (Thermoplastic Elastomer or TPE)

This material is based on a combination of thermoplastic, which is a type of plastic that withstands temperatures well, and rubber, as an element that gives it elasticity. We can use it to make tool handles, protection elements, bracelets, necklaces, decorative elements, toys for children, among others.

Without a doubt, it is the most complicated material to use for 3D printing, since it is a very delicate material and requires many considerations. Any 3D printer can operate with this material, as long as it works at speeds of 10-20mm / s. The distance between the push pulley and the extruder inlet should be short, as it could cause jams.

Those who make use of guide tubes for the extruder, must take into account that they are PTFE and not other materials, since these are the ones that generate less friction. High friction can cause serious problems. The nozzle is another part that we must take into account, since we will need an orifice nozzle of 0.4mm or more. If it is smaller than these dimensions, we must lower the printing speed even more and still run a high risk of jams.

Shock absorptionPoor resistance to heat and chemicals
Very good material resistance to fatigueLoses elastic property if operated at high temperatures
Can be stretched moderately and high ability to regain its shapeLoses elasticity with use
Is recyclableHigh technical knowledge is required
Soft materialExtremely slow printing

Carbon fiber

This material is especially known, because it is one of the most used in industry, especially in engineering or in the bodies of Formula 1, for example. Its widespread use and versatility is due to the fact that it is an extremely resistant material and that it is extremely light. As we said, it is widely used for body parts of competition vehicles, model aircraft, bicycles, motorcycles and many other fields.

It is not one of the most common materials for 3D printing and it has its peculiarities. Like some other materials, it does not need a hot bed and if you have one, it is convenient to turn it off or put it at a minimum temperature. It is extremely important to use a stainless steel extruder and not the common ones, which are made of brass. If brass is used, it may be destroyed by abrasion from the fibers of this material. This material will not flow in nozzles with a diameter less than 0.4mm, so we need nozzles of this diameter or more. The temperature range oscillates between 230-265ºC.

High mechanical resistanceHigh printing temperature
Very lightSpecial extruders, quite expensive
Good thermal insulatorPretty expensive filament
Easy to print 
Impact resistant 

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Marco Antonio Ramirez

Computer Systems Engineer. I love video games and technology. My greatest achievement in life has been being the father of two beautiful daughters. Allergic to tuna and heaters.

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